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    Almost all of the butterflies in New Zealand are native and most are endemic. Compared to big, colourful species from other countries, our native butterflies are small and secretive.

    When someone mentions the word butterfly, what image pops into your head? Chances are, it’s the monarch butterfly or the white butterfly, as these are our most visible butterflies.

    Our elusive native butterflies

    Did you know that New Zealand has only a few butterfly species? Scientists think that they are relatively recent arrivals, either blown in from Australia or flying in via New Caledonia. In spite of the small number, there’s a lot we don’t know about our butterflies. The alpine habitats, camouflage and sluggish life cycles of our native butterflies make them tricky insects to find and study in the wild. Even our well known butterflies have experts scratching their heads about their habits.

    Citizen science opportunities

    Some of the people helping to fill the gaps in our butterfly knowledge are citizen scientist groups like the Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust (MBNZT), led by Jacqui Knight. Volunteers gather information by tagging butterflies, conducting butterfly counts and by walking transects to collect data about the number and locations of all our butterfly species. The MBNZT welcomes school involvement. Students become citizen scientists by following established protocols and can engage in interesting and authentic research.

    Ahi Pepe MonthNet is a Participatory Science Platform initiative that investigates the distribution and ecology in New Zealand. It also has established protocols to ensure school students collect robust data about our native and introduced moth species.

    Butterflies and alternative conceptions

    Students hold a few alternative conceptions regarding butterflies and moths. The articles Differences between butterflies and moths and New Zealand moths address some of these issues. A second area, life cycles and metamorphosis, are compared and contrasted in the interactive Monarch butterfly life cycle and the activity White butterfly life cycle. A third area, toxicity, is covered in Butterfly defence mechanisms.

    Teacher resources

    A butterfly story in a primary classroom shares the account of a year 4 class as they took action to become butterfly warriors to protect butterflies in their school environment. Ideas from this experience formed the basis of two unit plans – one for lower primary and another for upper primary. A PLD webinar highlights the science skills and capabilites covered in this citizen science endeavour.

    Related content

    The topic Butterflies and moths has links to Hub articles, activities, media and professional development. Use the filters to narrow your search.

    Useful link

    Visit The Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust (MBNZT) website.

      Published 16 May 2010, Updated 7 August 2018 Referencing Hub articles